VR Simulating Dementia Makes Youth Sympathize with Elders

We’ve seen several instances of virtual reality (VR) being used in treating PTSD, pain and anxiety, and even in surgical training, but what about using it to simulate the symptoms of having an age-related disease like Alzheimer’s or dementia? A fully immersive platform allowing healthy individuals to simulate what those suffering from neural defects are experiencing would greatly improve empathy and understanding, and researchers at Embodied Labs have created just this.

This VR simulation has been incorporated into a training program at Northside College Preparatory School in Chicago and is being used by roughly 20 high school students. The program is part of the Bringing Art Back to Life program, created by neurologist Dr. Daniel Potts, University of Alabama, after his own father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The ultimate goal of this VR training is to prepare the youth for interaction with elders with neural defects such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.

“What we’re hearing from the students is that experiencing the virtual reality training before they volunteer improves their empathy and increases enthusiasm for working with the seniors,” says Dr. Potts.

The VR system utilizes two simulations to give the user a realistic simulation of living with cognitive defects. The first of which is referred to as the Alfred module, and simulates life as a 74-year-old with mild cognitive impairment, macular degeneration, and loss of high frequency hearing. The Beatriz module, on the other hand, use short stories told of a middle-aged Latina woman going through early, middle, and late stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia. These stories emulate struggling through grocery shopping, daily activities, and the progressive worsening of dementia symptoms later in the day known as sundowning.

“I wanted to understand what my Mom was going through.”

The creator of these VR modules, Carrie Shaw of Embodied Labs, has had firsthand experience with Alzheimer’s disease, being that she functioned as a caregiver for her mother when she was diagnosed with the disease. “I wanted to understand what my Mom was going through with this disease and virtual reality allows us to recreate some of the perspective of someone living with Alzheimer’s,” says Shaw.

Many others become involved with Alzheimer’s projects when the disease affects a direct family member, one of the most prominent being Bill Gates with his $100 million donation to fighting the disease that plagues his father.

VR is permeating the Alzheimer’s conversation in ways other than simulating the disease as well. The WAYBACK Project has dedicated its efforts to using VR in Alzheimer’s treatment, using the technology to simulate popular and positive moments that occurred in the patients past. The organization claims their goal is to trigger positive emotions in the patients, “enhancing their wellbeing and triggering connections with loved ones and carers in the present.”

Source: PR Newswire